The mysterious case of the disappearing media executive may have been solved. Seven West Media chief executive David Leckie is ensconced in a North Queensland health farm, Crikey has been told, recuperating from a host of medical conditions including dysentery.

The 61-year-old hasn’t been at work for weeks, and Seven West has not said publicly where he is or when he might be back. We understand his return is at least a month away.

Perhaps the most curious part of the mystery is the lack of panic in the marketplace. Normally, the absence of a chief executive from a publicly listed company would be a matter of concern. It might even warrant a “please explain” from the Australian Stock Exchange.

With the average tenure of a ASX top 200 CEO now down to about four years, they really need to spend a lot of time in the chair, especially when they are paid so much; in Leckie’s case, up to $4.4 million a year. Is it in the shareholders’ interests to be without a CEO for such a long time, without any indication from the company as to who is running the shop?

If the boss of NAB took several weeks off without an excuse, there would be questions from the stakeholders, and the publicly listed bank would probably have to keep the market informed.  However, the lengthy absence of a guiding hand at Seven West doesn’t seem to be causing too many problems, and at the Seven television network it is business as usual, under the guiding hand of boss Tim Worner.

Leckie is said to have not completely bounced back from a bad accident in 2008. Four years ago he almost severed one of his fingers in a garage door, requiring two operations after which he developed septicaemia from a skin graft. He was subsequently placed in an induced coma to aid the effect of intravenous antibiotics. The CEO, a notorious workaholic, has not changed his habits, but looks less robust.

Of course, he has built up a lot of goodwill at Seven West. Leckie is the only person in the country to have run two top-rating television networks, generating millions of dollars of profits for the owners of Nine and Seven. His employment contract expires this year, but the company has not yet explained to the market what will happen. It is widely thought that his contract expires at the end of this month, but Leckie himself has been telling people that it doesn’t  run out until November.

Seven West chairman Kerry Stokes currently has a host of issues on his plate, and he needs to resolve the succession issue quickly. Yesterday, Citi media analyst Justin Diddams put out a note urging the board to raise more equity to avoid a potential breach of its banking covenants, should the advertising market deteriorate.

Seven’s ratings dominance is also suffering due to Nine’s huge hit The Voice, a situation that will continue due to Nine’s upcoming coverage of the London Olympics.

Anyway, just to make sure nothing terrible had happened, I went around to Leckie’s eastern suburbs mansion yesterday to see if it was crawling with news crews. It wasn’t, and I was able to walk right around the whole block without encountering a single person.

It all felt a bit too quiet, so I peered over the back fence — Today Tonight-style — to make sure that wife Skye hadn’t buried him in the backyard (a common fantasy of middle-aged women). Nothing to report.

David, get well soon.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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